(photo credit: (Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post) )
It is safe to say that, since December, the status of the Israel Police has been on a downward spiral, but even if a new police inspector-general is picked tomorrow, the long-term effects of this winter's scandals are likely to tarnish the force for years to come.
This week's developments - the resignation of Israel Prisons Service Chief Warden Ya'acov Genot from his candidacy to become inspector-general, and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter's silence as to the identity of his second-best candidate - are only the latest loop.
With each spiral, the public shrugs it shoulders, as if resigned to the fact that the police is just that way. But for those of us watching Israel's increasingly thin blue line week after week, it is clear that the disaster is not merely maintaining an abysmal status quo, but getting worse.
Although the Zeiler Commission's mudslinging set the stage for the slide, the situation really began to decline with the escape of serial rapist Benny Sela. The incident itself was bad enough, but the reaction from the Internal Security Ministry compounded the situation, when Dichter publicly expressed his discontent with the police, and then canceled the police probe into the escape. Instead, he appointed his own commission, headed by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yaron. The message was clear: The police - even retired commanders who could have led the probe - was not qualified to investigate its failures.
Then came the Ta'ir Rada murder investigation. Whether Roman Zadorov is or is not the murderer, the weekly updates of police bungling and the righteous indignation of Rada's mother have led to a common perception that if you want a case solved, hire a private detective.
And then there was the publication of the Zeiler Report, and Dichter's decision to fire Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi (though the Zeiler Commission did not mandate it) - and his inexplicable choice to also fire Karadi's deputy, Cmdr. Benny Kaniak. Dichter offered Kaniak, instead, the position of IPS chief warden, in the hopes that Genot would soon need a replacement.
Now, however, Genot is out of work; Karadi is sticking around until a replacement is named; and Kaniak - a strong, efficient, well-liked figure in the police - will be leaving the department next week to take the reins of the IPS.
Enter the latest chapter of embarrassment: Dichter made it clear that he would not consider a candidate from within the police to fill Karadi's shoes, a statement which further undermined public trust in the force. But now, even worse, he has not found any person from outside - from the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) or the IDF - who is even willing to take the job!
Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi was reportedly asked before replacing Dan Halutz, as was Maj.-Gen.Moshe Kaplinsky and Maj.-Gen. Doron Almog. At least one - but probably more - of Dichter's old buddies in the Shin Bet have also reportedly turned down the offer.
And the police is left sitting in the corner, the kid so ugly that nobody wants to adopt him. The kid who is repeatedly told how stupid and incompetent he is, and then expected to perform well.
IT IS unfair to say that the police force itself is getting worse, because it is far too early in the year to come to such a conclusion. But its image has definitely suffered. And the problem is that image constitutes a large part of its deterrence.
To complicate matters further, the police - led by a lame-duck commander, judged by his boss unfit to serve - is now responsible for more high-profile investigations than ever.
President Moshe Katsav, Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson and a handful of MKs all have open cases against them, and the potential investigation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert lurks just around the corner.
Add to that the battle against the criminal underworld, occasional terrorist infiltrations and an occasional outpost evacuation, and you have a really full plate. And that's before even considering that it is the police - not, say, the Home Front Command - which responds to each Kassam that lands in Sderot.
Petty criminals are unlikely to say, "Hey, the police is really overburdened this month. Let's give it a break."
In addition to everything else, the police budget - for the first time in years - has been cut by approximately NIS 60 million. Rumors are spreading within the police rank-and-file that this could lead to lay-offs - demoralizing in any workplace.
Mid-level police officers have spoken to me in recent weeks about their thoughts for the future - and whether it even lies with the Israel Police. If - as some in the police expect - this year's developments lead to the early retirement of a crop of disillusioned young officers, the police could find itself with a dearth of qualified commanders much more serious than the one facing Dichter today.